Tag Archives: J. J. Abrams

Stranger Things – Must Stream TV

I don’t talk about TV a lot because I generally lose interest in a series after a good season because I struggle to make the leap to the new season the way the same way I struggle to enjoy most sequels. Now, this certainly isn’t always the case. Some shows are serials and their arcs are really just the length of one episode with larger overarching stories that carry through the entire season. I think about great comedies that I have loved like Boston Legal in which we were drawn into a legal case or two that have relevance to the current political or social climate then we get resolution, but during the episode we learned a detail about one of our main characters that gives us deeper insight into who they really are.

Overall, I’m one of those people that trusts the TV creators to know when to call it quits. However, I have been burned so many time by a 3rd or 4th season that wanders aimlessly because the creators wanted to make a dollar off the success of their creativity in the first two seasons but ran our of creative things to do narratively with their characters.

If you are reading this to find out more about the original Netflix series Stranger Things then you may be disappointed because I’m not going to tell you anything about the story or what it’s about. I want you to walk into it blind. I seriously hesitated in even putting the trailer here, but it is good to show you at least the basics of what you’re getting into with this 8 hour saga.

That’s right this is just 8 one-hour long episodes, so it is very binge-able. If you miss an episode, you will be lost, so watch it with your partner or else you will be answering questions half way through when they get sucked in too. I do want to make some comparisons. A lot of people are comparing Stranger Things to Spielberg films like E.T. and The Goonies, and a lot of Stephen King novels. I think the best comparison would be this: Stranger Things is what J.J. Abrams would have done with Super 8 if he had decided to make an 8 hour movie.

What Super 8 did was pay homage to Steven Spielberg’s brand of 1980s storytelling through the eyes of intelligent and adventurous children on the cusp of puberty. Stranger Things brings the same cast chemistry that I loved but with a lot more nostalgia and a fully fleshed out story. I kind of hope that the next season starts completely fresh with a new story and lets this season remain right where is ends, like a Stephen King anthology or Amazing Stories.

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The kids in Stranger Things are fantastic, I don’t want them to be known as “child actors.” They’re smart, fun, and they feel like they’re actual friends which we have captured in this story. Their performance is realistic. I’m sure the actors grew close while filming Stranger Things but it feels like they’ve really grown up together.

I highly recommend Stranger Things. The music, the acting, the story, and its ambition is fantastic. It is the best original show I’ve seen in years. If you’re a fan of Spielberg, Stephen King, or J.J. Abrams (or just a fan of good television), you should watch Stranger Things on Netflix before it gets spoiled for you.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Two months ago, no one knew that 10 Cloverfield Lane existed, let alone was about to be wide released in theaters. One month ago, no one had any idea how, if at all, this film was related to the 2008 film Cloverfield except for the obvious title and the fact that J.J. Abrams’ name was tied to the project. Not sure how Abrams had time with Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hide this project from the world, but I’m glad he did.

One of the greatest things 10 Cloverfield Lane has to offer is that the audience really has no idea what to expect going into the film. Very much in the J.J Abrams way, the production for this film has been left completely under-wraps and the trailers have revealed next to nothing. That’s one of the best parts of the movie, so I’m not going to spoil or give anything away in my synopsis or the review. I won’t even tell you if this movie is indeed a Cloverfield sequel or if it’s something different altogether. You’ll have to find out for yourself. But I will say that it is worth checking out whether or not you have any knowledge of Cloverfield. It only cost a measly 15 million to make this film and it nearly doubled that on its opening night. It’s a good film all by itself. It won’t win any Oscars, but it was compelling and fun.

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A woman we know very little about named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a car crash in a breath taking opening credit sequence. She wakes up a few days later to find herself in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman), a large and crazy-eyed farmer standing above her. He tells her that she can’t leave, because some sort of disaster has happened and it’s not safe to go outside. Finding herself alone with Howard and another man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and I’m stealing their tag line here because it’s a dang good tag line, they find out that monsters come in many forms.

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Obviously, I had no idea to expect when I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane. No one did. But within the first five minutes they set the tone so you know what kind of movie they are going for, and I found myself instantly engaged. For the rest of the film, I was floored with what was going on. In his directorial debut, Dan Trachtenberg takes the reigns on creating a film that will hit you with the unexpected, and leave you shocked.

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The best word I could think of to describe this film while I was watching it was claustrophobic. Trapped with Michelle inside the bunker, they create such an intense and nervous atmosphere that you feel yourself getting antsy along with the characters. Because for almost the whole film, we don’t really know what’s going on. We know what Howard is telling us and leading us to believe, but we have no idea if that’s reliable or not. We discover things along with the characters, which is why this film is such a good build up. When the conclusion to the film finally comes, you will leave more than satisfied. But don’t ruin it for yourself by looking up online spoilers to see if it is a Cloverfield sequel. See the movie. Find out for yourself. It’s worth it.

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The stand-out performance of the film is John Goodman. He is in so many films every year that we sometimes take him for granted and forget how good of an actor he can be when he’s not mailing it in, but rather commits whole heartedly to a role. That’s what happens here. He could have easily over-cooked his performance where it came of as cartoony or unrealistic, but he hit just the right level of disturbing and off-putting where you are crept out by the guy but you can’t be sure if he’s in the right or wrong. It’s a performance similar to Joel Edgerton’s in The Gift.

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At no point of 10 Cloverfield Lane does the film slow down or lose interest. It uses it’s hour and forty five minute runtime (a surprisingly long one for this type of film) to achieve the best possible effects. The film flies by and I found myself never wanting it to be over.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie you should see without being tainted by spoilers. Accept that you know nothing about it going in, and enjoy that experience. Because it’s something that doesn’t happen often and it’s a rare gift when it does. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a lot to offer despite the fact that it’s a very small film. So if it is still playing near you, go see it this weekend. Don’t look for other trailers or read other reviews. Just go, then come back here and tell me what you thought.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

The familiar scrolling yellow text setting the scene as the grand John Williams score blares to alert all that things just got real. Yes, Star Wars is back, and I for one am very excited about where this series is going in the next 30 years. This is the first Star Wars movie we have seen in 10 years, and the first real one in 32 years. I’m sorry but the prequels were just not good. I’m not sure if it was Hayden Christensen’s awful acting, the invention of midichlorians to science away the force, or Jar Jar Binks’ zany comedy relief, but the three prequels need to be lost to the annals of time and maybe we can let J.J. Abrams have a shot at recreating them. With The Force Awakens, he manages to perfectly blend the old and the new and makes a powerful and dramatic next step in the epic saga.

swfa1The movie features a blend of new characters as well as actors reprising their roles from the original movies as we join them 30 years since the destruction of the Death Star and the fall of the Empire. We are treated to Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew as Han Solo and Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher as Princess turned General Leia Organa, and Mark Hamill even makes a brief albeit epic appearance as the nearly mythical Luke Skywalker. There are plenty of other visuals and references that caused the theaters to erupt with fanboys (and girls) gushing their praise. However, some have said that this film was too close to the originals and it should be called more of a reboot than a sequel. I disagree.

swfa3.pngI see the presence of the original characters as a way to pass the baton on to a new generation as we step into new adventures. John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, and Oscar Isaac as Poe bring a delightful on-screen chemistry reminiscent of the original trilogy but setting a course for a new direction. The new characters are at home in the Star Wars universe, nothing feels forced, and they welcomingly provide a lighthearted and fitting next generation of heroes. Both the old and new cast work beautifully together, and the result is a film jam-packed with classic banter, references to previous movies and suspenseful action.

While the aforementioned prequel trilogy received criticism for its excessive use of CGI among other things, The Force Awakens returned to its roots, using models and miniatures whenever possible. John Williams provides yet another great soundtrack, however upon my first watching I did not hear another song that would compare to Duel of the Fates. But there were beautiful call backs in tone and melody to the original series especially the Imperial March. Ultimately, the music did what it is designed to do enhance both the action-packed battle and chase sequences and touching personal scenes. Also, I don’t think there were any lulls in the movie, meaning that if you do go and see it in the theater, make sure you go to the bathroom first and don’t drink too much because there are no good opportunities to leave for 5 minutes.

 

swfa2I will not spoil anything here, though if you have waited as long as I did to watch the film you will need to watch out for sneaky spoilers already creeping their way into pop-culture. My recent favorite being Adam Driver reprising his role on Saturday Night Live as Kylo Ren becomes Undercover Boss.

The movie is very good and provides a great introduction to the next trilogy. There are several shocking reveals throughout, and the conclusion leaves many questions unanswered while pointing to more movies to come. However, would you expect anything else from the guy who brought us Lost. All in all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wonderful addition to this saga and I can’t wait for my kids to get hooked on this new series.